Although the basic image editor in a computer’s operating system may be adequate for snapshooters, serious photographers require a dedicated editing program. Adobe’s Photoshop is often the first program people think of, however there are lower cost and free alternatives for both photo editing software and workflow applications.
All image editors should include the following functions: cropping and resizing, brightness, contrast and colour adjustments and sharpening and blurring tools. Most let you magnify images to work on small areas and many provide selection tools, effects filters and the ability to add text to images.
Rotation and straightening tools are almost universal and some basic editors support batch processing (which lets you apply the same adjustment to multiple image files). Look for programs that allow you to undo adjustments across multiple steps. This can avoid having to go back to the start and redo steps that were successful.
Photoshop provides both an Undo function with multiple levels of undoing and a History palette to show you each editing step applied.
Other handy tools include cloning and healing brushes (see Chapter 10). Cloning tools let you copy a selected area and ‘paint’ it over a different part of the image. The healing brush samples the pixels in the selected area and recreates them in a new area to correct blemishes like dust spots, scratches and flaws in a subject’s skin.
More sophisticated editors provide Layers support (See Chapter 4). This function lets you isolate a selected section of the image, create a new layer with it and work on it without affecting the remainder of the image. Levels and Curves adjustments are also handy (See Chapter 5).
Different levels of functionality are often reflected in the price of a software package, although not always. ‘Freeware’ editors like GIMP (The GNU Image Manipulation Program) are quite comprehensive.
GIMP is the most sophisticated freeware image editor available, providing the main adjustment tools most photographers require.
GIMP users can import and export most of the popular image file formats, including JPEG, TIFF, Bitmap and PNG. But it has limited ability to work with raw file formats.
The main difference between software you pay for and freeware applications is the level of support provided. ‘Commercial’ editors provide back-up support, usually via a website containing detailed explanations of the different tools and how they are used. If you can’t find what you need, you can request additional information and help.
Freeware is mostly unsupported; you have to find your way around the application and discover what it can do by trial and error and there is seldom any back-up support. (This isn’t quite true for GIMP, which provides useful links to a database of information.)
Recommended programs that will suit most photographers from beginners to advanced enthusiasts include:
Adobe’s Photoshop Elements provides most of the tools found in Photoshop but has an easier user interface and includes more special effects, tips, tricks, creative ideas and easily accessed help.
Corel’s PaintShop Pro is another relatively powerful editing application that covers image editing and compositing and includes one-click correction tools, hundreds of presets and customisable filters.
Zoner Photo Studio is a nice editing program for beginners. It provides all the basic functions and includes some interesting art effects.
Raw novices should choose a supported application. Those with good computer literacy can usually manage well with freeware applications.
Workflow applications combine an image editor with organising tools that allow users to determine how and where images are saved and track and tag them to make them easily accessed later on. Google Photos is a popular entry-level application in this category.
Offered as freeware, it includes support for slide shows, printing and creating image timelines. Images uploaded to Google Photos can also be prepared for e-mailing or printing (including via online photo printing services). An integrated search bar makes it easy to find images in the user’s library via filenames, captions, tags, folder names and other metadata.
The user interface of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom shows its value as a workflow manager.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a more sophisticated workflow manager that provides many of the same tools as Photoshop but focuses more on managing a large number of images. Lightroom is particularly good for batch processing and can apply advanced colour and tonal corrections to large batches of images simultaneously. It also supports raw file conversion (to editable JPEG or TIFF format).
Apple’s Aperture, which offered similar facilities to Lightroom, has been replaced by Photos for OS X, which also integrates Apple’s iPhoto. Photos for OS X is available through the OS X 10.10.3 update and will prompt users of the older applications to migrate their existing image libraries to the new application.
ACDSee Pro is another complete photo enhancement and management solution that includes an impressive array of effects, skin toning, lens correction and white balance improvements. It also provides organisational tools, lens correction and different ways to track and batch apply any editing adjustment.
Whichever software application you choose, be prepared to spend time learning how to use the functions it offers and checking out what they can do. Always work on a copy of your original image; that way if you reach a point where you’re unhappy with what you’ve produced, you have an unedited original to return to.
Excerpt from Photo Editing Pocket Guide